What Is It?

Man holding an oversized woodworking plane

Each trade has always had its own version of common working tools. These include items that are made and altered specifically for that particular trade or adapted from other sources. Additionally, makers from different regions create variations of the same tool. For example, there may be over 100 different forms of billhooks found in the British Isles. It seems each county had its own version, with variations sometimes being found in areas separated by less than 30 miles. The dogmatic expression "but we have always done it that way" springs to mind when discussing tools and techniques.

The woodworking plane

At the opposite end of the miniature tool spectrum is the fascinating world of giant or overlarge tools. As with miniatures, these items are sometimes classed as advertising samples or as examples fabricated by avid enthusiasts. Not commonly found, this oversized plane is a real tool and was much used in the trade it was associated with. Unlike the common wood plane, its existence was dictated by geography and weather conditions. Wine has been consumed for thousands of years, and the transformation from amphora jars to wooden casks was a natural progression as tools and materials changed throughout the centuries. By now the secret is out – this is a cooper's jointer and is usually found only where there are active vineyards and barrel-making enterprises, with the majority of these being in Europe. A word for the tool collector enthusiast from Flin Flon, Manitoba – it is a sure bet that there are no vineyards locally, so no big jointers will be found. I offer no opinions of future growing conditions resulting from global warming!

Underside view of the plane

These planes range from 3' to 8' long, with a beam of up to 10". They are sometimes found with a double-blade set-up. Body thickness can be up to 8", and often there is a wear plate inserted to regulate the throat opening due to extensive use. This unit is 47" long by 5" wide with a 3" wide blade. It is likely made of hornbeam. Used in the inverted position, it is set at an angle on a stand at one end with a fixed stop at the other. This tool is essentially the forerunner of the cast-iron power jointer of modern times. The style of use is different; while the modern jointer can work face and edge, the cooper's jointer excels at refining the list (angle) of each stave. To attempt face planing would require the arms of Hercules.

Close-up view of the plane's blade

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Once on a tool scavenging hunt in a rustic building, I came upon a doorway where an 8-footer had been used as the header to frame an opening. The builder simply used what was at hand and had no awareness of the plane’s former use, aside from the fact that it was "an old tool".

D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.

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